It’s almost the Year of the Dog! Chinese New Year falls on February 16th this year, and as always, eating plays a big role in the celebrations. Families come together and share foods that symbolize their hopes and wishes for the coming year, from good health and long life to wealth and prosperity. If you’re on the superstitious side, it’s an easy way to court good luck, and if you’re a non-believer, it’s simply a delicious start to the new year—you can’t go wrong!
Here are eight auspicious foods you should try (bonus: eight is considered the luckiest number in Chinese culture because it sounds similar to the word fortune). And remember, Lunar New Year is celebrated all across Asia, so we encourage you to explore other culinary traditions, from Korea's rice cake soup to Vietnam's banh chung. After all, who doesn't need more luck?
The Chinese words for tangerine and luck sound alike, so the small, sweet-tart citrus is a must for both eating and displaying during Chinese New Year. Tangerines with leaves are even better, as the leaves represent longevity. Just make sure the fruits aren't grouped in fours—the number four is associated with death.
The giant citrus is considered an auspicious food because the Chinese word for pomelo is a homonym for prosperity and status. In season through early spring, pomelos have a thick, easy-to-peel rind and crisp, sweet flesh. The unlucky rule-of-fours applies to these fruits too, so be sure to keep that in mind when you're setting them out.
The bird is traditionally served whole for Chinese New Year, including the head and feet, and represents unity and a good marriage between families. Our recipe calls for stuffing the cavity with fresh cilantro and ginger, steaming it whole, and serving alongside soy-ginger sauce, sesame-cilantro sauce, and Chinese mustard.
Probably the most well-known Chinese New Year food, dumplings are believed to bring wealth and prosperity. They're traditionally made to look like ingots (the currency used during the Ming Dynasty), which are boat-shaped, oval, and turned up at the ends. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the holiday, the better off you’ll be in the coming year. Talk about a win-win situation!
Whole steamed fish is meant to bring abundance from the beginning of the year to the tail end, as the word for fish in Chinese is a homonym for surplus. It’s important that the fish is fresh, not frozen, and served with the head and tail intact.
6. Long Noodles
Long noodles are served uncut and symbolize, you guessed it, longevity. Our festive recipe calls for stir-frying noodles with garlic, ginger, Chinese celery, yellow leeks, shiitake and trumpet mushrooms, and snow peas, then garnishing with fried lotus root and scallions.
Shrimp represent liveliness, as well as happiness and good fortune because the Chinese word for the crustacean sounds like laughter. The secret behind the shatteringly crisp texture for our salt-and-pepper version? Rinsing the shrimp in a brine before dry-frying.
8. Tray of Togetherness
Lucky number eight comes into play again! Usually a round or octagonal dish, this sectional serving platter has eight compartments filled with different symbolic treats, such as candied coconut for togetherness, red melon seeds for happiness, lotus seeds for fertility, and peanuts for longevity. The tray is often given as a gift or set out for guests to snack on during Chinese New Year. Here’s a throwback video of Martha putting one together: